Ineffective Punishment pt 1
Honestly, it’s a rarity when I use any punishment for Shayne or Rio’s mistakes in basic obedience/tricks–no click is, in most instance, enough information for them to know that wasn’t what I was looking for. If they make a mistake, they lose an opportunity for reinforcement and we move on. The main times I choose to use punishments are when I’m building default behaviors–door manners, It’s Yer Choice, loose leash walking, no jumping on me, dinner routines, or other rules for games like tug, frisbee, playtime, etc. Unfortunately, not only do I often see handlers using too much punishment and not enough reinforcement but I see them making mistakes that are making their punishments ineffective (at best).
Correcting the Unknown
It was the first day of algebra class in middle school and the teacher presents the class with an exam. She doesn’t say anything about the test or anything regarding the grading process. The exam covered the material the class would learn over the course of the year. Not surprisingly when she was correcting the exams none of the students passed–the teacher then told the class that whatever grade they got on this exam would be where they start the year in terms of their grade. How many parents do you think would call leave furious voice mails for the teacher? How UNFAIR is it to grade students on material they do not yet know–how DARE that teacher set their children up to fail.
Unfortunately there are many many people who misuse punishments in this very manner. They deliver harsh corrections for dogs who do not even know the behavior they are being punished for not doing. I actually once saw a youtube video of a “professional” trainer using an e-collar to teach a dog to walk nicely… the dog had no idea what the expectations were and was zapped over and over and over again–corrected for walking ahead, corrected for lagging behind, and corrected for walking too wide. Ultimately this poor dog just stopped moving. He was too afraid of being shocked for whatever behavior that he just stopped (even though he was being shocked for stopping). It broke my heart to see a dog so scared that he wouldn’t move (until she increased the shock level).
There is a difference in using environmental punishments to teach a new behavior (like closing your fist around food to teach It’s Yer choice or shutting a door to work on door manner) and using physical (or non-physical) punishments for “disobedience.”
It is inappropriate to correct dogs for behaviors they do not fully understand. This also applies to increasing the criteria of a behavior. If my dog just learned to ‘sit’ inside your home it is not okay to correct the dog for not sitting if you ask the behavior on top of a stump on the corner of a extremely busy intersection at rush hour, while 2 firetrucks drive by.
The punisher isn’t very unpleasant
The key part to using a punishment is that it has to be unpleasant and unexpected. Like I mentioned the other day, Shayne is a dog who likes getting roughed up a bit. If I were to scruff her or smack her butt for disobedience, chances are she’d wiggle and get excited and jump up on me. If I tried to push her off of me for jumping up, you can bet she’d get super excited and have lots of fun. For her, that type of punishment isn’t doing anything to reduce the likelihood of the behavior happening again.
I also mentioned the other day about how I handled Rio ditching me on the agility course in class the one day. I put him in a down stay and completely disengaged. Well, I watched someone try this method with their dog but it TOTALLY backfired. This dog was not enjoying the training–he was stressed, had been getting leash pops, wasn’t totally sure of the behaviors he was supposed to be performing. The handler got frustrated and totally disengaged from the dog–the dog went trotting off to sniff with a happily wagging tail. What the handler thought was punishing was actually very rewarding for the dog.
The other piece of this is that the dog should be ‘surprised’ by the punishment. If the dog is constantly getting leash popped, regularly being “tapped,” or frequently yelled at, these punishers become the norm and become less and less effective. This is just another reason to make sure that punishment does not play a large roll in your training because the more you use punishment, the more it is “needed” and the higher level of punishment is required for the punishment to be effective. We’ll talk more about this next week–along with a few more things that make punishments ineffective.
And not to be a Debby Downer focusing on punishment, I’ll also show you a video of trick I started shaping with Shayne yesterday–it’s RIDICULOUS!